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Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Hong Kong domestic helpers’ false claims of language skills and work expertise bring complaints, watchdog finds

Almost 90 per cent of employment agencies surveyed by the Consumer Council rely on overseas partners to verify background information

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 December, 2017, 5:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 December, 2017, 10:57pm

Domestic helpers’ false claims that they possess language skills or sought-after work experience have become a major concern for Hong Kong families, as employment agencies failed to verify their submitted information, the city’s consumer watchdog said on Thursday.

Agencies should more carefully scrutinise maids’ background, the Consumer Council said, as lying about English and Cantonese skills or past experience in caring for the elderly or infants was a major complaint it received this year.

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A council study found many recruitment agencies failed to conduct due diligence and verify information about helpers as the Labour Department required. Of the 33 agencies surveyed, 88 per cent relied on overseas partners to check helpers’ qualifications and work experience. Less than 40 per cent checked on those who had already completed contracts in the city, while one agency did not verify any of the claimed information.

A total of 350,000 domestic helpers work in Hong Kong, and they serve 11 per cent of families in the city, the council said. There are 1,400 intermediary agencies operating locally.

The agencies could face the consequence of having their licenses revoked
Gilly Wong, Consumer Council

“Employers should be aware of their rights,” Gilly Wong Fung-han, the council’s chief executive, said. “They have a right to complain to the Labour Department, and the agencies could face the consequence of having their licenses revoked.”

In one case Wong cited, an agency connected a helper who “worked for six years in Taiwan” with an employer who wanted someone able to speak Cantonese or Mandarin. But it turned out the helper barely spoke any Mandarin, as she had done farming work in Taiwan.

The Code of Practice for Employment Agencies issued by the Labour Department in January specifies that agencies should “exercise due diligence in checking the accuracy of the information provided by both jobseekers and employers, including the information provided in the resume of the jobseekers as far as practicable”.

Most of the false information cases happened at employment agencies lacking a permit from the Filipino or Indonesian consulates, as they were not allowed to interview and recruit workers from the countries directly, according to Thomas Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies.

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They account for 80 per cent of all agencies in Hong Kong, Chan said.

“Even for those with permits, information verification is sometimes beyond our ability, as we are not the law enforcement authorities and do not have enough resources.”

Whether helpers worked for families with elderly people or babies is sometimes impossible for agencies to check on due to manpower constraints, he added.

Employers should also have more realistic expectations when it comes to helpers’ language skills, said Cheung Kit-man, chairman of the Hong Kong Employment Agencies Association.

“Helpers spend at most three to four months learning Cantonese before coming to Hong Kong, and it’s impossible for them to speak fluently.”

Employers can also opt for Skype interviews to ascertain helpers’ language abilities, Cheung added.

The Consumer Council received 182 complaints about employment agencies in the first 11 months of the year, down 29 per cent from 258 cases in the same period last year. The number was 278 for the whole of 2016.